Published!

There are no words to describe the immense joy I feel about appearing in the My Real Garden book, alongside its creators Ann-Marie Powell and Tamsin Westhorpe, and the rest of the contributors in our My Real Garden community.

Writing a book is tough enough, but when you factor in the pressure of having to crowdfund the publishing costs, collating contributions and an impossibly tight deadline, it’s a miracle that we have it in our hands at all!

I have nothing but pride and admiration for what our community have achieved, together, for Greenfingers Charity. It’s a beautiful memento of a life-affirming year, and I am just so privileged to be bound together with you all.

When I began creating my garden, I never imagined that it would be leading a chapter on Tropical Retreats and the close connections it would bring me, be that on Instagram or the gardening community as a whole.

In these pages I take you on a journey through my garden and discuss my love of lush, architectural foliage, planting for pollinators, my passion for ponds and healthy, happy hedgehogs. I even share my tips for growing space-saving vegetables.

Compassion for my community shines through, be that my love for Leasowes Walled Garden or how a pandemic inspired the Plant a Thought project, launched to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

I am now part of a philanthropic phenomenon, where kindness is king and people in the community send you handmade bunting to help you celebrate this special occasion. WE DID IT!

The book will be exclusively launched through British Garden Centres Group. Retail outlet details can be found on http://britishgardencentres.com. It will go on general release through Amazon from 1st April 2021.

Your purchase will support Greenfingers – the wonderful UK charity that funds magical gardens in children’s hospices, giving life-limited children and their families precious time together.

2020: Covid, Creativity and Compassion.

As we leave 2020 behind us, I choose to approach 2021 ‘without fear’ – a mindset inspired by the title of the stunning Dermot Kennedy album, which I currently have on repeat. 2020 was never going to get off to a good start after losing a close family member, immediately before Christmas 2019, so I already had a sense of foreboding even before we knew that a global pandemic was about to induce panic and anxiety.

However, after developing and recovering from mild symptoms, just before the country went into full lockdown in March, some of those fears were allayed and I was able to resume work after a period of self-isolation. Others have not been so fortunate: lives and livelihoods have been lost, and many people face an uncertain future, so we must sit tight and continue to follow the rules until this modern-day plague packs its bags and does one!

It’s been heart breaking witnessing close friends and family struggle under difficult circumstances, but I’m proud of the strength they’ve exhibited and inspired in me. In the words of Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” In fact, it’s the strength of those close to me, my community and our keyworkers who inspired me to launch the Plant a Thought project, to bring about positive change.

Last, but not least, I cannot thank Ann-Marie Powell, Tamsin Westhorpe and the whole My Real Garden gang enough for the love and support they’ve all shown me since I dared to share my garden live, on Instagram, and found the most compassionate and creative community waiting for me at the other end. We’ve literally grown together, ever since, and I now have a zillion tulips to look forward to, come spring, thanks to their enthusiasm and encouragement.

To everyone who’s had my back, in 2020, thank you for putting a smile on my face during one of the most challenging, but life-affirming years I’ve had both the misfortune and pleasure to experience. I love you all. Happy New Year! ✨

Darren. X

A community ‘grow together’ for charity gardening book.

Garden Designer, Ann-Marie Powell

Back in March, when the country went into lockdown, renowned Garden Designer Ann-Marie Powell (@ann_mariepowell) began her My Real Garden (@myrealgarden) journey on Instagram. She went live from her own ‘real’ garden every lunchtime, without fail, for 100 consecutive days, attracting an audience of gardeners from across the UK, Europe and North America, which totals 13.4K followers on Instagram and she has now been shortlisted for a Garden Media Guild Award for Social Media Influencer of the year, which she never expected to be nominated for, and has dedicated to us.

Book contributor, Darren Kench, in his own garden

As someone who has continued to work throughout lockdown, as a graphic designer and writer, I often caught up with Ann-Marie’s daily live posts later in the evening, but missed that instantaneous connection they provided, until the weekend when I could tune in live and hang out, online, with the rest of the My Real Garden gang who joined her for the eagerly anticipated ‘Sunday Social’ at 12:30pm. On Sunday 5th July, I defied my ropy WiFi connection to go live with Ann-Marie and shared my small garden, on the outskirts of Birmingham, just as others have done, and we continue to ‘grow together’ as a community.

Darren Kench at Oudolf Field, Hauser & Wirth

I even had fun linking up, live, with Ann-Marie as an unofficial ‘Roving Reporter’, sharing my visit to the Piet Oudolf garden at Hauser & Wirth, on Sunday 23rd August, during a weekend break in Somerset. As a result of our shared interest in gardening, connections have been made across the world, which has seen many local satellite groups develop as virtual friends have become real friends, meeting in person for the first time, while following government guidelines on social distancing. We are now one big family and support network, sharing our passion and keeping each other motivated during darker days. All thanks to Ann-Marie and her philanthropic personality!

Proposed sample spread from the My Real Garden book

When lockdown restrictions were lifted a little, and Ann-Marie returned to her design studio in Hampshire, the Lunchtime Lives ceased, but the friendships didn’t, and she continues to keep us entertained, during ‘Sunday School’, while brandishing her trusty – and surprisingly legal – Hori Hori knife. What next for Ann-Marie and the My Real Garden community? Well, not content with becoming the ‘Lara Croft’ of Gardening and our lockdown sweetheart, this warm and generous woman has drawn on this experience and is turning it into a book, to raise money for Greenfingers – the UK charity that fundraises to build beautiful gardens in children’s hospices. 

Iris sibirica ‘Tropic Night’, in Darren’s garden

Many of us have submitted our lockdown survival stories and scenes from our real gardens; the very same gardens that we invited people into, when we dared to share them with Ann-Marie and friends on her Sunday Social. Pushing that button, and sharing the screen with this lovely lady, was one of the best experiences of this extraordinarily challenging year. Who knows what the future holds, but what I do know is that we are in safe hands, and as one of many My Real Garden book contributors and ambassadors, I owe Ann-Marie a debt of gratitude for all that she has done and continues to do, by lifting our spirits and inspiring us with her kindness.

I have already met up with several local members of this community, but keep in touch with many more, and one day I hope to thank Ann-Marie in person, for the positive impact she has made and the many hours she, and her friend Tamsin Westhorpe, have dedicated to the creation of this unique gardening book, by the community for the community. After just one week of going live on the Indiegogo site, we are half way towards meeting our publishing target. Only then can we start to raise money for Greenfingers and the many children who could benefit from the sale of this book.

Below is a link to the fundraiser, where Ann-Marie shares her passion and experience of My Real Garden, and her wishes for the launch of the book, in March 2021, but we need to act fast! I hope you can get behind our campaign, help us to promote this positive example of community spirit, and put a smile on children’s faces.

Thank you for your support!

Darren

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/my-real-garden-the-book–2?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bck-10242020update&utm_term=#/





Zen and the art of self-isolation

Today, I woke up a little out of sorts and thought I was taking a backwards step, but I overcame the restlessness and attributed some of it to a ruse of the mind. After stirring slowly, and witnessing the weather, I was low-spirited and lacking purpose (along with any kind of comfort food).

I wasn’t intending this to become the diary of a self-isolator, but we live in strange times and must do what we can to maintain our momentum and find new ways to power it. The way we live our lives is going to change, for the time being, and the word ‘cancelled’ is becoming commonplace.

As our world shrinks and we become more insular, we must learn to fall back on our own resources, perhaps discovering a newfound sense of self, with unlimited potential for creativity and compassion. This pared-down way of life will bring with it both challenges and opportunities as we are forced to discover new ways in which to serve ourselves and others, while this storm blows over.

So, the self-care starts here, because we can’t pour from an empty cup, and we’re all reliant on each other to control the confinement and carry out our duties to those who are dependent on us. You can have your cake and share it, so learn to live simply and we’ll get through this together.

It’s #timetotalkday2018

Time To Talk

When you don’t get enough sleep it’s easy to let your thoughts run away with you and start focusing on the things that you thought you’d resolved and would otherwise have managed to let go of. Instead, you begin searching for something deep within yourself that doesn’t live there any more, rather than accepting that it’s gone. For some, it’s a bit like when you know you’ve left your cashback in the self checkout, but continue to open your wallet, hoping to retrieve it. For others, it’s an overwhelming sense of despair that you thought you’d learnt to live with, but returns, threatening your peace of mind and ability to function at any level.

Know that this emotion is common to many, even if the reason is unique, and that your affliction, physical or mental, is a valid cause for disappointment and a part of living with the sense of loss associated with grief of any kind. You can’t change what happened, but you can change the way that you respond to it and leave room in your heart for everyone and everything that comes your way. While reminding yourself of your vulnerability, also reflect on the strength that it took to recover from that experience, and the beautiful soul that’s been preserved as a result of your growth. You’ve come a long way, my friend; don’t turn back. We’ve got this!

Darren

 

Help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time

Doorway

Let’s tackle homelessness, one kind act at a time!

There have been shocking statistics about homelessness in the news, recently, with local councils estimating that more than 4,751 people a night sleep rough on England ‘s streets as of Autumn 2017. That’s up 169% since records began in 2010, and rising.

The reasons why someone finds themselves in this no-man’s-land are as diverse as those existing in this perpetual Groundhog Day. Devoid of interaction or purpose, their voices are muted and their lives hang in limbo, swept aside like spent leaves on an Autumn day.

In the words of Ben, from London, “Every day I wake up is just another day closer to death. “If I didn’t wake up, tomorrow, sometimes I’d think it’d be a blessing, then I wouldn’t have to do another 24 hours of this.” How, in 21st-century Britain, can we allow words like this to form in the mouths of our citizens?

The longer that someone is homeless, the bigger the impact on both their physical and mental health and the further removed from society they become, reducing their chances of reintegrating with and contributing to the community that created their predicament.

In the spirit of Bernadette Russell’s ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, I want to create a ripple effect of Kindness Scouts who, rather than turning a blind eye on their daily commute, stop and engage with those sleeping rough, from a position of safety and compassion.

Perhaps you can forgo your daily coffee fix on your way to or from work, slow your pace and extend a warm hand on a cold day. You might not have a ‘responsibility’ to that person, but you do have the power to give them hope, a meal, and a kind word or two.

How would you feel if you were identified as a ‘problem’, if your life amassed to nothing except for the tattered clothes that you were wearing, and the doorways you slept in were the same ones that closed in your face on a freezing night?

Be a part of the solution. Be a Kindness Scout and let’s help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time.

Tag your kind acts using the hashtag #KindnessScout

Thank you! Darren X

Statistics source: ITV News – 25 January 2018

‘Moonlight Garden’ wins ‘Best Indoor Feature’ Award at Gardeners’ World Live.

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I’ve just found out that our recent collaboration with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), at this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live, has resulted in the prestigious ‘Best Indoor Feature’ Award. Congratulations to our friends, at BCT!

The show organisers have made the announcement across social media, featuring the stand and our garden’s display, with ‘Leasowes Walled Garden’ clearly visible; a great bit of national exposure for BCT and our restoration project.

GWL_Award Screen grab

I’m very proud of all of the volunteers who have inspired such recognition and who work tirelessly to improve our community, both inside and outside of the walled garden, for Halesowen Abbey Trust. We have many people to thank for this, not least Joe and Andreia, for offering us space on their stand.

Andreia’s straw bale sofa was a masterstroke, and the kind donations of flowers, from stands exhibiting nearby, as well as those provided by ourselves and our sponsors, Brookfield Nurseries, went down a storm. With Joe’s expert guidance we can do more to encourage and promote bats.

GWL Award_Twitter

This just goes to show that if you do what you love, with passion, and surround yourself with good people, who care, you can make a huge difference to your community and positively contribute to the wonderful Wild About Gardens conservation effort. Go, team LWG and BCT!

Darren

Walled garden to exhibit at Gardeners’ World Live

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The Leasowes Walled Garden is joining forces with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) at this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live, taking place at the NEC Birmingham, between 15-18 June. The collaboration came about after the walled garden entered and won the group category of last year’s Wild About Gardens Week ‘Plant a bat feast’ photo competition, organised by The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), The Wildlife Trusts and Bat Conservation Trust (BCT).

Since winning the competition with its ‘Biodiversity and Bats’ area, created by volunteers, the walled garden has continued to build on its conservation efforts, incorporating a wildlife pond into what will become a beautifully spacious and well-thought-out wildflower meadow. Volunteers and visitors alike are free to take in the peace and quiet of the walled garden and heritage orchard, during designated hours, benefitting from this unique and restorative setting.

Visitors to the show are invited to come along and meet one of several volunteers who will be on hand to talk about the restoration project and this year’s Wild About Gardens ‘Bee Creative’ campaign, or you can pick up tips from a resident bat expert who will be giving talks throughout the duration of the show on stand G425. The walled garden’s display will also feature flowers by husband-and-wife team, Paul and Jo Hill of Brookfield Nurseries, Belbroughton, renowned for their award-winning hanging baskets – key to the success of Halesowen In Bloom’s coveted gold award.

The 18th-century walled garden was created in 1776 by Edward Horne, who took ownership of The Leasowes following the poet and landscape designer William Shenstone. It was purchased in perpetuity for the public, by Halesowen Abbey Trust, in November 2014, and is managed with nature in mind. The site comprises 2 acres of community gardens, maintained by volunteers and funded by welcome charitable donations. Mick Freer, project leader, said: “We are delighted that the Bat Conservation Trust has asked us to participate on their stand and have this opportunity to raise the profile of our conservation work and its continued reliance on funding.”

To make a donation, please visit www.leasoweswalledgarden.co.uk or make cheques payable to Halesowen Abbey Trust and send to 59 The Hawnelands, Halesowen, B63 3RT.

Surviving or Thriving?

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Surviving or Thriving? This is the question being posed during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place between 8-14 May 2017.

As someone who yo-yos between the two, it’s often a fine line and a distinction difficult to make. In recent years I’ve learnt to scale those peaks and glory in the views during times of high productivity, and also deliver myself safely to the ground when I’ve either ran out of inspiration or arrived at a path on my journey for which I have no map. I no longer waste my energy tilting at windmills, but having exhausted all avenues, I often consult my extensive support network of friends, family and trusted practitioners, before making any big decisions. It has taken years of resistance, relapses and fine-tuning to arrive at this juncture, and a combination of mindfulness and medication, but persistence pays off.

The longer you live with something, whether physically or mentally challenging, the more proficient you become at adapting your behaviour to fit the situation and responding appropriately. ‘Acceptance’ is the key word, here, and until you reach that point, you will find it almost impossible to move forward, uninhibited, and be happy in the present moment. It can take some people weeks to deliver themselves from the depths of despair, while others take years. Experiencing loss, or any unexpected interruption into our lives, often requires a process of grieving and adjustment. Left unresolved, grief is poisonous to both our bodies and our minds, and if you don’t ‘lance’ those noxious emotions, the more toxic they become.

Redundancy, an ailing Mother who’d fallen victim to the ravages of Cancer, and an unresolved identity crisis, all resulted in exhaustion, triggering a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that completely overwhelmed me and sent me into a major depressive episode. In that moment, I was neither surviving nor thriving, but existing in a place that I can only describe as hell on steroids. My story very nearly ended there, and my experience of the mental health system was largely traumatic and detrimental to my recovery. However, dedicated individuals from my local CMHT – including my GP – saved the day, and the support that I have received has been second to none. This continuity of care is the reason why I’m so happy to be here, contributing to the discussion and the community that helped save me.

Many people, uncomfortable with such heightened states of emotion, either resist help for fear of being annihilated by the initial groundswell that comes with acknowledging their anxiety, or simply don’t fully appreciate the impact that depression can have if left to run amok and permeate every aspect of their psyche. Generational life events aside, we are now assaulted from all angles: In today’s preoccupation with social media, for example, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your ‘meagre’ existence to that of someone’s highly edited, highly funded version of reality, invalidating your own life choices and experiences by creating an out-of-reach future self. Of course, this is just one blight on our mental wellbeing and there are myriad reasons for becoming mentally unwell and ways to improve our outlook on life.

A lot of the way that we respond to any given situation depends, to some extent, on our upbringing and the conditioning that we experienced as a child. Many emotions lie buried, like a sleeping giant, until we have the capacity to analyse the situation and recognise the part that this ticking bomb has played in shaping our resilience to stress. Reframing your thinking can be exhausting and not a particularly efficient way of living, but it can be achieved as you learn to develop a stronger sense of self and become master of your own mental health. I still have the occasional moment when I go from lucidity to languishing, at the flick of a switch, but those extremes have become much less frequent and short-lived. In the end you learn to be your own hero, but never forget the people who got you there and the impact that you, too, can have on another person’s ability to thrive.

Darren

Modern Gardens Magazine

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It was a lovely surprise to have received a mention in Modern Gardens (April 2017 – Issue 13) and see what everybody else is getting up to in the ‘WE LOVE OUTDOOR LIVING’ section of its magazine. This magnificent monthly chimes perfectly with my belief that gardening should be accessible to all and provide an opportunity for rehabilitation and reinterpreting an age-old British pastime. It’s packed full of inspiring projects and scintillating shares by readers of all means and backgrounds, breaking down barriers and adding to the sense of belonging and community, while giving you aspirations for your own garden. I love it!

Modern Gardens_EXT Close Up

Within the past 8 years I have spent a great deal of my time completely reworking a pre-war garden, retaining and reusing existing materials and sympathetically incorporating a number of new materials, design elements and specimen plants. The design of this garden has water at its heart and features exotic planting and Eastern sculptures alongside more traditional influences and planting schemes. I created this circular paved seating area, adjacent to the pond, choosing furniture that adds height and elevates me above the water. The burnt orange of the Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’, the brilliant red of Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, and the hot pink of the Drosanthemum were new additions, last year, successfully transporting me to more exotic climes.

Exotic entertaining

Hemerocallis (Daylily) and Dahlia have both undergone something of a revival of late and I can’t think of enough superlatives to sum up these show-stopping sirens. Take Hemerocallis, for example – yesterday, they were nowhere to be seen and today they’re trumpeting temptresses! Individual flowers are short-lived, (hence their name) but plants can produce a profusion of flowers, in succession, which could last for many weeks. Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’ certainly packs a pyrotechnic punch: like a dragon, spewing forth flames, it’s exceptionally exotic-looking and befitting of its primarily Eastern Asian roots, where dragons are usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens. ‘Flore Pleno’ certainly fits the bill!